Spring thunderstorms, laden with cool air, are apt to bring the occasional early season hailstorm. With the destructive power to decimate crops and gardens at their early stages, hailstorms were thought to be manifestations of divine anger, foreshadowing the “act of God” language still used to this day on insurance policies for homes and vehicles.
Among the Pennsylvania Dutch, the first hailstones of the year were thought to be particularly useful in treating illness. The Reverend Thomas R. Brendle recorded in the early 20th century in Lehigh County that “the first three hail-stones of the year,” were gathered and saved as “a protection not only against fevers but against all sickness throughout the year.”
Similarly folklorist and linguist Edwin Miller Fogel recorded that “die aerscht Schloss ass mer sehnt, nochdem ass en Kind uff die Welt kummt, soll mer en Kind feidre, noh grickt’s ken Gichtre” (the first hailstone that one sees after a child is born into the world should be fed to the child so that it will not suffer convulsions).
Another significant folk-cultural aspect of hail among the Pennsylvania Dutch is preserved in the use of long chains of obscenities, many of which reference the weather. This comes from the ancient notion that thunder, lightning, and hail were expressions of heavenly and cosmological judgement, and were among those words not to be invoked for fear of challenging fate and kindling divine wrath. While “Dunnerwedder” (thunderstorm) is certainly one of the most commonly known phrases in Berks and Lehigh, as this simple word is used as an equivalent to “gosh darn it” or “confound it!” More colorful expressions include hail, as well as a whole slew of meteorological references:
“Himmel Blitz Haagel Schtaern Dunnerwetter!”
(Heavenly lightning hail-star thunderstorm!)
“Heilich Kreitz Haagel Schtaern Dunnerwetter nochemol!”
(Holy cross hail-star thunderstorm once again!)